The Crimean parliament on March 17 formally declared the region independent and asked to join the Russian Federation following a popular vote to secede from Ukraine. The US and EU have called the vote illegal, and the EU stated that the vote's outcome would not be recognized. The US on March 17 announced sanctions against seven Russian officials while the EU's foreign ministers imposed travel bans and asset freezes against 21 officials from Russia and Ukraine. Though the government in Kiev refuses to recognize the results of the vote, Moscow considers the vote legitimate. The Crimea region, which has been under the control of pro-Russia forces since late February, has appealed to other countries as well as the UN to recognize Crimean independence. As a result of the vote, Crimean officials claim Ukrainian laws no longer apply in the region, and Ukrainian state property there will be nationalized and made part of the property of the Crimean Republic.
Hillel Cohen, Ukraine director of the Jewish ambulance corps Hatzalah, was stabbed the night of March 14 in Kiev by a group of men who reportedly hurled anti-Semitic slurs during the attack—making him the third Jew to be assaulted, and the second to be stabbed, in the city since January. These attacks are certainly convenient to the relentless Russian propaganda that portrays Ukraine's new leaders as fascists. At a recent press conference in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin warned against the "rampage of reactionary forces, nationalist and anti-Semitic forces going on in certain parts of Ukraine, including Kiev." But some Ukrainian Jewish leaders think the attacks are a little too convenient. Josef Zissels, chairman of the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities (VAAD) of Ukraine and a vice president of the World Jewish Congress, told the Jerusalem Post the assault on Cohen was a provocation, intended as a "justification for the continuation of Russian aggression" in Crimea and to "discredit the new government of Ukraine."
Crimean Tatars held protests in the peninsula on March 14 ahead of a referendum to join Russia. Around 500 demonstrators took to the streets calling for "Russian soldiers to return home." Tatar leaders have dismissed this weekend's poll as illegal and called for a boycott. (Euronews) Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pledged to support Crimea's Tatars. "Turkey has never left Crimean Tatars alone and will never do so," he said, after a phone call to Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month. Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu vowed to protect the "rights of our kinsmen" after meeting with Ukrainian officials and representatives of the Tatar community during a visit to Kiev. (AFP, March 13) In a move to reassure the Tatars, Crimea's parliament has passed a resolution guaranteeing the ethnic minority proportional representation in the body, and granting their language official status. (RT, March 11) Meanwhile, street clashes are reported from the eatsern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, with one young man killed in fighting between pro- and anti-Russian demonstrators. (The Guardian, March 14)
In a case of very disturbing bluster (but, we hope, still just bluster) Ukrainian parliamentarian Pavlo Rizanenko told the Western media that Ukraine may have to arm with nuclear weapons if the US and other world powers refuse to enforce a security pact that he said obliges them to act against Moscow's takeover of Crimea. "We gave up nuclear weapons because of this agreement," said Rizanenko of the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR). "Now there's a strong sentiment in Ukraine that we made a big mistake." (KSDK, March 10) Rizanenko was refering to the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. Late last month, Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, formally invoked the Memorandum. In their statement, lawmakers said: "Ukraine received guarantees of country's security in the 1994 Budapest memorandum on security assurances over Ukraine's accession to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty." (ITAR-TASS, Feb. 28)
In response to the Crimea crisis, EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger announced he is to delay talks with Russia on the South Stream gas pipeline that would export Russian gas via the Black Sea. The South Stream line strategically bypasses Ukraine, which currently hosts the main arteries for export of Russian gas. (Reuters, March 10) The European Commission has already postponed discussion of the OPAL pipeline, part of the Nord Stream project, which similarly bypasses Ukraine via the Baltic Sea. (Voice of Russia, March 11) Russia's giant Gazprom, which uses the existing Nord Stream line to send gas to Germany, plans to start shipments to Europe through the South Stream line at the end of 2015. Russia is seeking to boost gas exports to Europe as much as 23% over the next 20 years. (Bloomberg, March 12)
This is pretty funny. Israel's progressive +972 mag reports March 7 that a delegation from the group Breaking the Silence, an anti-occupation organization made up of Israeli army veterans, recently arrived in Hebron to be greeted with two prominently placed banners raised by local settlers, reading: "Palestine never existed! (And never will)". Both the banners, which were very professionally produced (no hand-painted job), were hung on sections of Shuada Street that Palestinians are barred from entering under restrictions imposed in the wake of Baruch Goldstein's 1994 massacre at Hebron's al-Ibrahimi Mosque.
Newly appointed head of the Crimean Security Service, Petr Zima, said March 3 that he plans to take measures against Hizb ut-Tahrir, an Islamist organization with a following among the Crimean Tatars. "Islamic organization Hizb ut-Tahrir is recognized as a terrorist organization," he announced in a televsied statement. "Today there are elements of this organization in Crimea. Corresponding functions are laid on the Crimean Security Service and we will struggle against them. Crimea's Prime Minister Sergey Aksenov added that officials will take measures, including using force, "against those who don't want to cooperate with official power." (InterFax, March 3) Zima's appointment comes just as Aksenov's government has welcomed Russian troops to Crimea, in defiance of authorities in Kiev.
A startling report on the Jewish Telegraphic Agency Feb. 28 tells of a "Jewish-led militia force" that participated in the Ukrainian revolution—called the "Blue Helmets of Maidan" even though their helmets are (tellingly) brown, and under the command of a Ukraine-born veteran of the Israel Defense Forces who goes by the nom de guerre "Delta." In an interview, Delta boasted how he used combat skills gained in the Shu'alei Shimshon reconnaissance battalion of the IDF's Givati infantry brigade to rise through the ranks of Kiev's street fighters. He now heads a force of 40 men and women—including several fellow IDF veterans—that clashed with government troops in the street-fighting that brought down Viktor Yanukovich. Most bizarrely, Delta said he takes orders from activists linked to Svoboda, the ultra-nationalist party that is widely accused of anti-Semitism. "I don’t belong [to Svoboda], but I take orders from their team," he said. "They know I'm Israeli, Jewish and an ex-IDF soldier. They call me 'brother.' What they're saying about Svoboda is exaggerated, I know this for a fact."